Monthly Archives: November 2013

Exploratory Trip to Pinnacles National Park

This is my report of a trip to Pinnacles National Park. I have been interested in exploring this park as a potential site that club members could visit for dark sky viewing and imaging. My friend Nhan Nguyen had told me about the location since he has been there a few times for imaging.

On Sun 11/24 Nhan, Bill & Susan O’Neil and I met at the Pinnacles to explore the location and do some imaging and viewing. The Pinnacles is location in a fairly remote location south of Paicines on Hwy 25. From my place in the south bay, the drive was pleasant no remote or off road excursions needed and no excessive winding mountain roads. It took me 1 hour to get there. From the club’s home base at Houge Park, it should take about 1.5 to 1.7 hours to get there depending on traffic. The city of Hollister is about halfway and has gas and other stores if need to get food or other stuff on your way down.

As, I drove around the park, I noticed there are a lot of mountains and trees so the horizons are somewhat limited. On my way to the visitor’s center to meet the others, I noticed an somewhat open area with pretty good horizons. After meeting the others, we talked with the Rangers about having access to that location which is a overflow camping area which also includes an flushable toilet.

As we were setting up, I noticed there were some cars leaving the park on a road next to the campground. Nhan had said once it got dark, that really would not be a problem and it was not. Once it got dark there were no cars after we were set up. I was amazed at how quickly it got dark once the sun had gone down. I had my mount polar aligned and ready to go by 6pm.

This was my first time to a true dark site and it was a new experience. Venus was so bright in the night sky in the west, it was almost seemed like the moon was up on that side of the sky!! But, as Venus went down it did get dark, really dark. I was able to see the Milky Way in detail naked like I had never seen before from RCDO or Coyote Lake. I could easily see all the stars in the little dipper naked eye. The Andromeda Galaxy, Double Cluster, M33 Pinwheel galaxy visible naked eye. The view of the Double Cluster in my 20×80 binoculars were spectacular!!! so much more detail and contrast.

For those into imaging, I was imaging IC342 with a F7 scope. I was able to shoot 12min. sub frames at ISO1600 with no light pollution filter with no skyglow.

I did take some measurements of the location. Most of the horizon are between 15-18 degrees high except for the north which is slightly lower. I took some SQM meter readings with my iPhone app and the readings taken several times through the night were 21.6-21.8 and the highest rating. For comparison RCDO is 20.5. I’ve been told by TAC observers Lake San Antonio is about 21.5. Granted, my iPhone app most likely is not as accurate as a dedicated meter but, it does give a rough reference point.

I enjoyed my time at the Pinnacles with Nhan, Bill and Susan. I think there is a possibility for this location for club members who want to view at a dark site within 2 hours of home base. I’m planning to go back again when I have the opportunity.

-Ed Wong

Posted in Articles, Trip Reports


Here is where to look for comet ISON for Friday Morning November 22. On Wednesday, Thursday ISON will be a bit higher in sky and Saturday a bit lower than shown. So look for it any of these days. The comet is best viewed with a small scope although you should see it with a pair a binoculars as faint blue smudge. Here is a link for a live sky of ISON:


Posted in Anouncements, Blog

1X Sunspot

Nice But hard to see 1x Power Sunspot

through weekend for those who still have their eclipse or Venus Transit Solar Glasses

– Never look @ Sun without approved filter –

In a small scope with filter be prepared for WOW!

as this image shows



Posted in Articles, Blog, Solar

Comet ISON brightens up

by Akkana Peck

The big shallow-sky story in November is Comet C/2012 S1 ISON, brightening to naked-eye levels as it approaches its peak next month.

So far, ISON isn’t quite living up to some of the hype we heard earlier in the year. It may be as much as two magnitudes fainter than the early predictions had indicated. But don’t give up hope — ISON could still turn out to be a very nice comet.

It will likely be only around sixth magnitude as November opens — just barely naked-eye visible, if you go to a dark sky site like Coe or Fremont Peak — but will brighten to around second magnitude by later in the month, comparable to the stars in the Big Dipper.

Here’s the bad news (at least, it’s bad for a lot of us) — ISON is still a morning object, and will remain so for nearly its whole pass. At the beginning of November it rises at about 3:30 am, then moves to about 3 am by the second weekend. But by the 16th, it’s later again, not rising until 4 am (sunrise is around 6:50) and by a week after that, it’s so close to the sun that it’ll be tough to spot at all.

As November opens,, the comet will hang between Mars and a slim crescent moon in the dawn sky. It remains there, with the tail (whatever tail it might have by then) sweeping toward Mars, for the rest of the week, though of course the moon will move on. A nice opportunity for early rising photographers!

As the month continues, ISON should brighten steadily, but it will also rise later as it moves sunward. That means it’ll be harder to spot. But it’s worth trying — particularly on November 23 and 24, when ISON will be close not only to Saturn and Mercury, but to another comet, 2P Encke, all four of them fitting in a roughly 6-degree field along with the magnitude 2.8 star Alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi).

Six degrees isn’t small enough to get them all in a telescope together, but wide-field binoculars should be able to fit them in. ISON should be around second magnitude by that time. (Some sites have predicted that it will be brighter than Venus by this time in November, but don’t count on it.) Encke is a much fainter magnitude 4.8 — it’s reported to have a green glow this year, though whether that will be apparent to a visual observer when it’s this close to the sun is doubtful — and Saturn and Mercury are magnitudes 0.5 and -0.5 respectively.

ISON makes its closest approach to the sun, at about 700,000 miles, on November 28. You won’t be able to see the comet’s head then — but
if it’s grown a long tail, you might be able to see the tail rising before sunrise. I vividly remember a night in 1997 at the SJAA Messier Marathon at Coe — “What’s that glow over there? Is it headlights from a car driving on a road up in the hills?” “No, there’s way too much of it!” and the amazement as we gradually realized we were watching Hale-Bopp rising, forked tail first, over the Diablo range.

But the real ISON show is expected to happen in early December. By the middle of the month the comet should be visible in both morning and evening skies, and it’s anyone’s guess how bright it will be. I’ll cover more details of its December schedule next month, but for now, cross your fingers!

Okay, so you’re sick of hearing about the comet and you don’t want to get up that early anyway. What else is there to look at?

Try Jupiter! The gas giant rises at around 8:30 and is visible for the rest of the evening.

On November 5 there’s a nice multiple shadow transit. It starts during daylight, around 3:30, with Io’s shadow. By sunset (about 5:05), Io’s shadow, just about to exit the disk, has been joined by Europa’s shadow plus Io itself. Europa’s shadow exits the disk around 6:60, just about the time that Europa enters. Then there’s a very similar Io/Europa shadow event on the 12th, starting just before 5pm with Io’s shadow, with Europa’s shadow exiting around 9:20. And there are lots of single shadow transits, as well as single shadow plus single moon events — it’s a busy month for the Galilean moons!

Venus, too, is accessible in the evening sky all month., setting a little before 8 pm, going from roughly half phase at the beginning of the month to slightly crescent by November’s end. Uranus and Neptune transit near nightfall, so you’re best off catching them early in the evening. Pluto sets around 7 pm, so it’s really too low for observing this month.

Mercury, Mars and Saturn are all in the morning sky. On November 25, a couple of days after that nice ISON/Saturn/Mercury/Encke conjunction, Saturn and Mercury have a close conjunction, only about 20 arcminutes apart. That separation is only a little bigger than Saturn’s own disk.

Posted in Articles

The RASC Observer Handbooks Are Here!

The RASC Observer Handbooks Are Here and For Sale at all Houge Park Events
The 2014 Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Observers Handbook is the best annual astronomy resource in print.
Even In today’s tech world, amateur astronomers make the most out of any night in the field with just this book, a basic astronomy app and the optics of their choice.

Click Image to Enlarge

352 Pages. SJAA Price with no shipping is $25 flat – compare with net! In this paperback book you get

  • The Sky Month by Month;
  • Deep Sky Gems and Deep Sky Object Challenge (45 objects this year)
  • Location of dwarf, minor and major planets;
  • Lunar Occultations;
  • Planetary Occultations;
  • Variable Star Data (observe/learn the way stars vary in brightness);
  • Positions, Transits and Shadow transits of the bright moons of Jupiter and Saturn;
  • The 2014 Opposition of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn…;
  • Comets of 2014: location, brightness, background information;
  • Superb writeup (so says our Michael Packer) on observing the Sun with labeled diagram of sunspot features;
  • Superb articles for 2014 by noted Authors such as David Levy (Amateur Astronomer and Author), Fred Espenak (NASA), Syuichi Nakano (Sumoto Japan, 2014 comets) and “our” Derek Briet (Morgan Hill CA on Planetary Occultations).

SJAA ordered 40 of these books for our 300+ membership. We expect to be sold out by January. Now Available at All Houge Park Events

Posted in Anouncements, Blog

Comet ISON

C/2012 S1 also known as Comet ISON or Comet Nevski–Novichonok can be seen right now below the constellation LEO (and below the planet Mars). It is a very hard to find binocular object and a hard to find object in a small refractor in fairly dark urban skies. A 6-inch or larger scope is best. Apps such as Sky Safari have the position of ISON right on the mark. It will help to have stars plotted (visible) to magnitude 8.  Best time to look is  5:00-5:30AM. It is not a “wow” comet to-date but a good comet for folks who love the thrill of the hunt. Lots of good images of comet are at ( such as this one by Mike Broussard on November 3, 2013 Maurice, Louisiana:


Posted in Articles

Sundog Sun!

Observe The Sun Safely – Never look at the Sun without a proper filter!
Solar Programs are held 1st Sunday of every Month 2:00-4:00 PM at Houge Park  weather permitting.

November First Sunday Solar Observing

Sun Dogs and Prominences – WOW!

Seeing prominences (H-Alpha flares) and sun-dogs (ie not a rainbow but an ice-crystal-bow) on the same day is very California. It’s like skiing and hitting the beach on the same day! I didn’t bother to check the weather for Solar Observing Sunday and that turned out to be a good thing!

It’s California after all and El Sol is cookin’ right now.  Any any chance to see the Sun’s atmospheric layers and its dynamics during this max is time well spent. I have to remind myself that, prior to the H-Alpha Scope, folks traveled the world to catch a ~3 minute total eclipse glimpse at prominences. Needless to say I was the only scope at Houge Park but not the only observer.  We had a couple Parent-kids show up and SJAA members Mikhail, Alena and Chris.

To be frank most of the 1st hour was poor viewing. We did see the current major sunspots groups every so often through the cloud layer and through H-Alpha filter  – which is not the best instrument to observe sunspots.


We then managed to pick out a few nice prominences around the solar disc. But around 2:45 as the cloud layer lifted just a bit more, we got a fantastic Sun-dog show complete with left – right dogs and connecting icebow. Mikhail took a photo of it and here it is:

Click Image To EnlargeMiks-Sundog

You can search Wikipedia for Sun-dogs but here is a nice pic of the effect by Thompson Higher Ed:

Sundog Graphic

Posted in Blog, Solar